The Queen, seated on the Throne and attended by Her Officers of State, commanded that the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod should let the Commons know that it was Her Majesty's pleasure that they attend Her immediately in this House.
"My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, my Government's overriding priority is to ensure sustained growth to deliver a fair and prosperous economy for families and businesses as the British economy recovers from the global economic downturn. Through active employment and training programmes, restructuring the financial sector, strengthening the national infrastructure and providing responsible investment, my Government will foster growth and employment.
My Government will seek effective global and European collaboration through the G20 and the European Union to sustain economic recovery and to combat climate change, including at the Copenhagen summit next month.
The Duke of Edinburgh and I look forward to our visit to Bermuda and our State Visit to Trinidad and Tobago and to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in this, the Commonwealth's 60th anniversary year. We also look forward to receiving the President of South Africa next year.
My Government will continue to reform and strengthen regulation of the financial services industry to ensure greater protection for savers and taxpayers. Legislation will be brought forward to enhance the governance of the financial sector and to control the system of rewards.
My Government will introduce a Bill to ensure the communications infrastructure is fit for the digital age, supports future economic growth, delivers competitive communications and enhances public service broadcasting.
My Government is committed to ensuring everyone has a fair chance in life and will continue to take forward legislation to promote equality, narrow the gap between rich and poor and tackle discrimination. The Bill will also introduce transparency in the workplace, to help address the differences in pay between men and women.
Legislation will continue to be taken forward on constitutional reform. My Government will also publish draft legislation on proposals for a reformed second chamber of Parliament with a democratic mandate.
My Government will continue to work closely with the devolved administrations in the interests of all the people of the United Kingdom. My Government is committed to the Northern Ireland political process and will continue to work with Northern Ireland's leaders to complete the devolution of policing and justice and to ensure its success.
The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, I have to acquaint the House that Her Majesty was pleased this morning to make a most gracious Speech from the Throne to both Houses of Parliament assembled in the House of Lords. Copies of the gracious Speech are available in the Printed Paper Office.
"Most Gracious Sovereign-We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament".
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the gracious Speech concentrated on four main themes, which the Government are determined to pursue in this next short parliamentary term. The first and overriding priority is, and must continue to remain, delivering a fair and prosperous economy for families and businesses. In the past 18 months, we have had to confront the first truly global economic recession. No matter where one travels, even among the most traditional and risk-averse economies in the world, no country has escaped the consequences. Everywhere I have been in the past year or so people raised the same questions: how do we pull ourselves out and how long will it last?
There have had to be hard choices: whether markets should be left to sort out the crisis or whether Governments should intervene; and whether to let the recession run its course or whether to stimulate the economy back to stability and then on to growth. The arguments about how best to do this have raged between economists, commentators and politicians. Blame has been apportioned and reapportioned on an almost weekly basis. But, as the gracious Speech makes clear, the Government believe that it is vital to take action to shoulder responsibility and to protect those on middle and modest incomes and those who are unemployed. To this end, the Government are pledged to do more to create jobs and to foster growth and employment. Moreover, the Government will reform the financial services industry so that those who save and those who lend do not again have to live with the anxieties, the insecurities and the fear that they have experienced in recent months, through no fault of their own.
The second theme that struck me in the gracious Speech was that of the urgency that the Government attach to dealing with climate change. The global nature of the challenge is as clear with climate change
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I turn to two other themes of the gracious Speech which are of a more domestic nature. The first is the strengthening of our public services. One of the huge attributes of this country is that we in all parties recognise that we must all contribute to the great public services, to provide education, health and social welfare. This is the cornerstone of our sense of social justice, grown and nurtured in this country for almost 500 years, and it is very different from what exists in many other countries. Our system is far from perfect, but it has improved hugely under the Labour Government. Just as one of the great Conservative Administrations of the past-that of the then Mrs Thatcher, now the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher-can take credit for changing for ever the terms of engagement in recognising, tracking and controlling public expenditure, taking responsibility at all levels of public administration, so we on these Benches are proud of what our Administration is achieving on public services: 44,000 more doctors, 89,000 more nurses, 42,000 more teachers, 19,000 more police, the shortest waiting times in history, the creation of Sure Start, child benefit at record levels, the minimum wage and much more.
There is more to be done, as the gracious Speech makes clear: more on strengthening the key public services, more on setting achievable goals for individuals, and more on letting those individuals know what they and their families can expect on health, welfare and, in particular, on the educational standards on which our collective future depends. That touches on the last theme: social justice. Without good public services, social justice cannot be achieved. Good public services-the provision of health, education and social services-are fundamental prerequisites of equality of opportunity between men and women, between people of different ethnic origins and between people of different beliefs and sexualities. All these issues have been tackled boldly over the past 12 years, sometimes against heavy odds, but always with determination and conviction. But equality of opportunity between rich and poor is an even tougher barrier to social justice. We have begun-pulling half a million children out of poverty, together with 900,000 pensioners-but it is not enough, and this is a challenge which we on these Benches are determined to champion.
There are two further issues in the gracious Speech that I should like to mention. The first is foreign policy. Establishing security and prosperity in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East and dealing with the
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I put on record the satisfaction of these Benches at everything that has been done to put this country at the heart of Europe. We acknowledge all the work that has been done in trying to bring peace and stability to troubled parts of the world, often with the support of our superb and courageous Armed Forces, who put themselves on the line for us every day.
Many of us-and that includes many from all parties-are especially pleased with this Government's cancellation of debt for the poorest countries, the separation of the provision of overseas aid from any trading advantage to ourselves, the trebling of our aid budget and the commitment to make binding our aim to achieve by 2013 the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent of national income dedicated to international development. World poverty is beatable and we are determined to beat it.
Lastly, and I suppose utterly predictably, my eye was caught by the reference to publishing draft legislation on proposals for a reformed second Chamber. On that, we know how divided opinions are. One colleague remarked earlier that this might be the last straw on the subject. We shall see. My only comment-at least, for now-is that a democratic mandate for a reformed second Chamber has to be matched by democratic powers that allow that mandate to be exercised.
The State Opening of Parliament is always a splendid and vivid occasion. This year it is especially interesting because, to be frank, there is for the first time in 12 years a real possibility that there might-just might-be a change of government in six months' time. The polls tell us that that may happen, not that it will, and the British people will make their judgments in due course. However, they will make them after what has been, to quote Her Majesty about an earlier year, an annus horribilis for politicians. The expenses scandal has affected both Houses and all political groups-no party can point a finger at others-and the British public have rightly had cause to question politicians' motives and the integrity of public life in general.
Public service in this country is our bedrock. For all our faults, our public services are remarkable for their integrity and freedom from corruption. Our Armed Forces answer the calls from the United Nations, NATO and the European Union with speed as well as courage. The overwhelming majority of people who staff our police forces, our fire services, our town halls, our Civil Service, our social work departments, schools and hospitals are dedicated and committed to public service. And so are most politicians. Most people enter public life to try to make this country and beyond better for people-all people-to live in. Government Ministers work very long hours, often to the detriment of their private lives, and opposition spokesmen and spokeswomen, mostly with little support-particularly
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I hope that in these next six months, however hot the heat of the political battle, we shall be able to show that, although much has gone wrong-at times shamefully wrong-so much more has gone right in the way that public administration and public service are undertaken in this country and that the motivation of all of us, of all parties and none, is and will remain one of public duty and public service.
It is especially rewarding for me to follow the most admirable noble Baroness; as noble Lords will be aware, she was, among her many achievements, the first ever female Minister of State for Defence. I would like to think that I, too, given my origins and upbringing, may be achieving something of a first in seconding the Motion for an humble Address but, alas, I believe that I am not the first Yorkshireman to do so.
It is with some trepidation that I follow such an esteemed person as my noble friend who, in addition to her ministerial post of defence, was Minister for the Middle East, Minister for international trade and the Prime Minister's envoy to the Gulf. I also know that she has a long-standing commitment to equality and justice, having been a trade union general secretary and an Equal Opportunities Commissioner. I am very fortunate to be associated with her today. Indeed, I am very aware of the great honour bestowed on me of giving this address and I hope that I can do justice to your Lordships' expectations.
I first joined this House as a Cross-Bench Peer but from the moment I arrived, I have always felt supported and found great guidance and reassurance from noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, was, from the very beginning, extremely supportive and always provided a guiding hand. It was my noble friend Lady Ashton of Upholland, the then Leader of the House, who found time to listen and to reassure me as I took up my seat on these Benches.
I must also join my noble friend Lady Symons in paying tribute to the dynamic duo-what a great team-of my noble friend Lady Royall of Blaisdon, the Leader of the House, and my noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton, the Chief Whip. Lately, I have had the great pleasure of working closely with both of them and benefiting from their strong and inspirational leadership as I found myself, for a time, in the Whips' Office.
Entering the Whips' Office was certainly a steep learning curve, but one which was both rewarding and enlightening. I was fortunate to have a great mentor in the form of my noble friend Lady Andrews. As I say, I had to learn a great deal as a Minister in the Whips' Office. There are probably two initial key issues that a Whip faces. The first is that you have to answer a lot of parliamentary Questions, often on subjects about which you know little. I take this opportunity to thank noble Lords for their forbearance and patience with me during the times when this was abundantly clear to them.
I can assure noble Lords that, despite their doubts, I sought guidance and advice about answering parliamentary Questions. Surely, I thought, there must be some sort of guidance-a course, an induction programme, perhaps, that I could go on. Early on, I sought advice. "No, you do not need a training course on this", I was told, "you just need to learn a few golden rules". I was told a story that perfectly illustrated what the golden rules were. Let me share this with noble Lords.
A Minister and a senior civil servant are being driven to some remote government establishment. The car begins to travel deep into the countryside, it is getting late, and the fog closes in. The car gets slower and slower and finally the driver, dimly seeing a passer-by, rolls down the window and shouts, "Where are we?". Back comes the answer, "You are in a car in the fog". The civil servant immediately jumps up and says, "Do you realise, Minister, that that is the perfect answer to a parliamentary Question? It is short, it is absolutely true and it tells you nothing that you did not already know".
The second most challenging duty as a Whip was to try to make people stay late into the evening to vote. I thought, "Okay, let's try the usual Yorkshire charm". That did not last too long, so I implored people to stay-I even begged them. Finally, I resorted to threatening them with the Chief Whip. Alas, even the threat of the wrath of my noble friend Lord Bassam was of no avail at times, until I realised that, when really necessary, a Whip has to use the ultimate sanction, the ultimate threat of the real boss.Eight simple words seemed to do the trick every time: "If you leave early, I will tell Josie". My noble friends know only too well the effectiveness of this sanction.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Whips Office, and I am immensely grateful to my many colleagues in the office who work tirelessly to see the business of the House through. I also express my gratitude to all the officials who work behind the scenes, often unseen and unknown, but who do great service to the work of this House.
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